Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Participation and partnerships: love 'em or loathe 'em?

Preparing for a bit of teaching on participation and partnerships I am reminded of the emotion that such elements arouse when it comes to development of any sort. I have posted on this before in relation to recent policy trends here in Northern Ireland (NI) and how such 'feel good' words like 'participation', 'partnerships', 'bottom-up' 'community' and 'empowerment' have come to dominate the technobable emanating from the EU and which trickles down to all regions of the union. In fact, it is no different at the global level and such terminology dominates EU international development policy, as it does other global donors. The big question is whether such approaches to rural development in NI (and I suppose elsewhere?) really work, a question already posed by Dr Sally Shortall in the above posting. This was the type of question I was always grappling with in my project management work overseas. Although there were anecdotes of impact and lots of agency back slapping few seemed interested or willing to put in the hard work of measuring impact. How do such approaches contribute to the economic and environment regeneration of rural areas; social advancement and political stability that surely make up the arena of rural development? Such approaches do not come cheap. There have been some studies in NI on this area but from what I have read (limited!) the level of evaluation or measurement of impact has been minimal. Surely a very interesting and rewarding (and necessary?) piece of research for postgraduate study!

Personally, I belong to the school of practice that supports partnership and participatory approaches to development because I have seen benefits and positive impacts in the field, even if fairly localised (although I support more systematic studies of impact). For a good introduction to the beneficial impacts of participatory approaches to rural development in developed and developing countries, read Participation in Strategies for Sustainable Development. However, like all good development process 'good quality' must prevail. The ambiguity of meaning attached to participation and partnership mean they are open to interpretation and therefore variability in practice. Many typologies and ladders of participation have been devised as a way of categorizing levels of, or commitment to, participation with the recognition that participation by default is not necessarily a good thing. In fact, some types of involvement undermine rather than support, effective participation, leading to manipulation or at best a degree of tokenism. At its most extreme the practice of participation might be dangerous, open to abuse and possibly reinforce unfair and dishonest power structures. Even though it is almost 40 years old, Arnstein's Ladder of Participation is still an excellent example of the differences between effective participation and non-participation. Jules Pretty's Typology of Participation is another and both can guide us in the practice of 'good participation'. Clearly participation can mean different things to different people but it is only by aiming for the higher levels, citizen control and self-mobilisation, that real empowerment or transformation will occur. The irresponsible use of participatory development has been extensively critiqued in academic circles in Participation: The New Tyranny? However such criticisms have been countered and challenged by the many participatory practitioners in the field who continue to enrich development dialogue with examples of participatory development that is relevant, ethical and responsible but above all, effective. Participation: From Tyranny to Transformation is one example of recent responses to this criticism. Although both books review and critique participation in a global development context there is much in both to inform thought and analysis for rural development in NI. Of course, one of the main mechanisms for ensuring that good quality participation is practised in the field is through effective and relevant training at universities and other institutes. This takes me back again to the Learning and Teaching for Transformation initiative which I have posted and written about many times. How many Irish universities or institutes involved in rural development, or any development for that matter, critcally reflect or research areas such as 'participation', 'partnerships', 'empowerment' and so forth despite these elements dominating the international and rural development policy arena? Further, how many are really preparing rural development practitioners to be effective agents of rural development change, equipped with the necessary skills, attitudes and behaviours? Actually, I am aware of one such programme at Queen's which aims to enhance the participatory skills of students (and staff?). Despite trying to canvass others, I am aware of no similar programmes or even if the Queen's programme is continuing.

When planning for effective partnership the same principles and ethics that ensure quality participatory process obviously apply if the partnership in question is desired to be a 'real' and 'equal' partnership, not one that is considered an 'arm's length' partnership. Again, some of the information on my earlier postings on partnership will be useful in this context. Recently, I came across this postgraduate student paper on Partnerships in NI which provided some interesting perspectives on local partnerships that might be of interest to some readers working with partnerships.

Finally, I wanted to close with something rather scathing I once heard said about partnerships. I have no recollection who might have said it but I think we can safely assume that he or she belonged to the sceptical school of thought,
'partnership is the suppression of loathing in pursuit of funding'

More on participatory GIS

I posted earlier on the Ovalau participatory mapping exercise that the DSAP project was involved in during my time in Fiji. This nice little video, with lovely singing and images, is a good visual overview of the process. Note, it might take a while to access and connect to the video. Thanks to my friend Giacomo Ribaldi.

Conference for the Study of the Rural Landscape

The 23rd Session of PECSRL - The Permanent European Conference for the Study of the Rural Landscape will be held in Lisbon, Portugal from 1-5 September 2008 under the theme, LANDSCAPES, IDENTITIES AND DEVELOPMENT. The conference objectives are:

-To provide insights on historical, current and prospective linkages between changing landscapes and natural, economic, cultural and other identity features of places and regions;
-To bring forward new ideas about the landscape related identities as local and regional development assets and resources in the era of globalized economy and culture;
-To assess the role of historical geography and landscape history as platforms of landscape research and management in European contexts and their transcontinental perspectives;
-To strengthen landscape perspective as a constitutive element of sustainable development, and to promote international cooperation in landscape and development research.

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Northern Ireland - Good food is in our nature?

So runs the new chant for Food Promotion Northern Ireland (FPNI). Can't honestly say that I have ever seen much evidence that this is the case in my lifetime of eating in the north but things can obviously get better. Hopefully the FPNI, a new private company, will be able to map out an innnovative and interesting pathway that not only supports local food production but brings much needed change to the culinary atmosphere here in the north. I will be very interested to read about their strategy and how things develop.

Food for life

One of the largest studies of its kind has found that organically grown food is more nutritious and healthier compared to its conventionally grown counterpart. The Quality Low Input Food (QLIF) project, involving 33 academic centres across Europe and led by Newcastle University, analysed the 725-acre farm’s produce for compounds believed to boost health and combat disease.
'While the results show significant variations, with some conventional
crops having larger quantities of some vitamins than organic crops. But
researchers confirm that the overall trend is that organic fruit, vegetables and
milk are more likely to have beneficial compounds.'
According to Professor Carlo Leifert, Team Leader of the QLIF Project,
'the compounds which have been found in greater quantities in organic produce
include vitamin C, trace elements such as iron, copper and zinc, and secondary
metabolites which are thought to help to combat cancer and heart disease.'
Read more here.

For a more global perspective on the links between food, food production and health check out the latest issue of LEISA Magazine, Healthier Farmers, Better Products, available for download here.

Friday, 26 October 2007

Supporting local food and local producers

Did you know that 40% of all ready meals sold in Europe are consumed in Britain? That one in seven of every pound spent in Britain is spent in Tesco. Further, research by the New Economics Foundation demonstrates that every £10 spent in a local shop or store returns £25 back into the local community whereas the same amount spent in a supermarket puts back only £14.

Well, Rosie Boycott (co-founder of Spare Rib) knows this and much more about the importance of local shops and local food to a vibrant and cohesive local community. You can read more in the Opinion piece of the latest National Trust Magazine (Autumn 2007, sadly not online) or in her latest book, Our Farm: A Year in the Life of a Smallholding.

The Global Environment Outlook

So it takes a 'conservative' report for some broadsheets to sit up and take notice that we are living beyond our means and that Planet Earth can't handle it for much longer (what's it going to take for the trashy tabloids, presumably when they start taking statistics on the erosion of soap stars or 'celebrities'). The report in question is the Global Environment Outlook: Environment for Development (GEO 4) produced by a team of 400 researchers and pulled together by the United Nations Environment Programme.
'The speed at which mankind has used the Earth’s resources over the past 20
years has put “humanity’s very survival” at risk, a study involving 1,400
scientists has concluded.'
Such doom and gloom has certainly made The Times Science Correspondent, Mark Henderson, sit up and take notice. Mr Henderson is slightly dismissive of earlier 'ten a penny doom-mongering documents' preferring the more rigorous, multi-authored approach of the UN. Maybe the likes of Greenpeace were just quicker to the chase and this UNEP report just confirms what many of these 'ten a penny' reports have been saying all along anyway. The Times reports

'researchers said agriculture depended on biodiversity but was the biggest cause
of reduced genetic diversity, species loss and habitat loss. Scientists
expressed concern for the future security of the supply of food because of the
narrow genetic base for agriculture. Just 14 animal species account for 90 per
cent of all livestock production, and 30 crops dominate global agriculture,
providing an estimated 90 per cent of the world’s calories.'

There is much to read and digest here.

Thursday, 25 October 2007

From exlusion to equality

Last night's BBC 2 documentary on disability and sexuality certainly raised alot of public interest if the number of comments on the internet and radio is anything to go by. One person in particular talking about how disabled toilets never have condom machines, tampon dispensers or even the sanitary bins in them - she said it was as if "the disabled were neutre".

Interestingly, the United Nations have just published a handbook for parliamentarians on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities titled, From Exclusion to Equality, which I am sure will go someway to improving the rights of disabled persons in rural as well as urban locations.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

A Feasta news on sustainability

'Feasta aims to identify the characteristics (economic, cultural and environmental) of a truly sustainable society, articulate how the necessary transition can be effected and promote the implementation of the measures required for this purpose.'

Environmental news

For up-to-date information on wildlife and environmental news in the British Isles, such as the recent announcement by the government's chief scientist on badger culling, visit the Habitat website. Very informative lots of resources by discipline and regions.

World Rural Forum Association

'The World Rural Forum Association (WRF) is a forum for meeting, analysing and
observing rural development. It has established agreements with universities and
other educational or research centres, with farmers' associations and with NGOs
which have solid links with grass-roots organization. As a result of this work,
we avail ourselves of reliable information which enables us to analyse the
problems of farmers (men and women), stock-breeders and the inhabitants of rural
areas throughout the world and draw up proposals for courses of action.
The WRF is a non-lucrative Association of an international nature, whose activities
are carried out in a world context. It defines itself as a network which amply
covers the five continents and is formed by people and public and private
institutions, committed to the achievement of sustainable and equitable
development, particularly in the field of rural development.
In the quest for achievement of rural development, the WRF also promotes projects for cooperation in various rural areas of the world.'
There are some useful resources and links available on the website

Campaign to Protect Rural England

The Campaign to Protect Rural England has been campaigning and working for some time now for a sustainable future for the English countryside, a vital but undervalued environmental, economic and social asset belonging to the nation. Their work highlights threats and promotes positive solutions for the environment and should be of interest to anyone working in sustainability and the countryside.

Tackling health inequalities, the CDHN

'The Community Development and Health Network as a member led organisation aims to make a significant contribution to ending health inequalities, using a community development approach.'

Visit their site for an interesting range of resources, publications and contacts.

Women in agriculture down under

Gender inequality is to be found everywhere, in the global north as well as south, rich as well as poor countries, rural and urban centres and in most sectors including agriculture. Studies in Northern Ireland, and I am sure eslewhere in the UK, EU, continue to highlight gender inequality in agriculture. Here is an interesting example from Australia set up to address such inequalities. Australian Women in Agriculture is committed to promoting the advancement of women in agriculture by:
- uniting and raising the profile of women in agriculture;
- addressing rural and agricultural inequalities;
- working to ensure the survival of agriculture for future generations;
- securing local, regional, national and international recognition; and,
- achieving the status of a political and economic force.

Might be something worthwhile to think about here.

Sustainable Measures, developing community indicators

Sustainable Measures
'develops indicators that measure progress toward a sustainable economy, society
and environment. Sustainable Measures works with communities, companies,
regional organizations and government agencies at all levels.'
You can search their extensive database on indicators for various sectors and also download training materials.

Teagasc, supporting the agri-food industry in Ireland

Teagasc is the DARD counterpart in the south of Ireland looking after education, research and advisory work for the agri-food industry.

Falling through the cracks?

Thanks to Luigi for bringing to my attention another UK biodiversity conservation document that fails to give serious consideration of agricultural biodiversity yet again. Read more here.

Monday, 22 October 2007

Rural change in Ireland

I have just been browsing through the book Rural Change in Ireland edited by John Davis at Queen's University. I was particularly interested in the latter part of Chapter 10, Towards a brave liberal world? living with European rural policies by Davis and Shortall. It is a very useful introduction to the evolution of rural development in Northern Ireland over the last 30 years or so and how European policies have shifted the focus away from sectoral interventions to more area-based, community-based initiatives all based on those lovely buzzwords, participation, partnership and empowerment. The authors point out that the history of the such rural development approaches have their roots in the 'community development approach fashionable in Asia, Africa and Latin America in the 1950s and 1960s' which 'were subsequently discarded'. However, they did not point out that much of the rhetoric that seems to accompany EU rural policy in Northern Ireland (and obviously other EU regions) has much in common with the rhetoric currently found in EU international development policy. Interesting! Like a one-glove fits all policy. Shortall and Davis ask some very interesting questions in their analysis and I hope to focus on some of these over the next week. Definitely a good introduction for anyone who wishes to know more about rural development in Northern Ireland.

Friday, 19 October 2007

Mapping for change

I don't believe I have posted on participatory GIS before but I thought I might take the opportunity to plug my old workhorse, the Development of Sustainable Agriculture in the Pacific (DSAP) Project. DSAP was one of a number of partners that participated in a collaboration to assist the communities on the island of Ovalau to document and map their natural resources and intangible and tangible cultural heritage. The exercise was part of an effort to help the island of Ovalau seek UNESCO World Heritage listing. You can read more about the exercise here.

I am very happy to be able to say that the collaborative exercise was recently recognised internationally with a World Summit Award for 2007.

I have previously posted on participatorty planning. I wonder if there have been any interesting applications of participatory GIS (PGIS) in a rural context here in Ireland.

Marking World Rural Women's Day

'Marking World Rural Women's Day Minister Michelle Gildernew MP MLA has praised the work of rural women and encouraged them to become actively involved in the 2007-2013 Rural Development Programme. World Rural Women's Day provides recognition and support for the multiple roles of rural womenwho make up more than a quarter of the world population. On World Rural Women's Day the Minister highlighted the important role of rural women in today's society.'
"World Rural Women's Day is the universal day that connects all women who live in
rural areas around the world and inspires them to achieve their full potential.
It is an important day for rural women as it celebrates the fact that as well as
contributing to the well being of their families, rural women play a vital role in
the development of rural economies. "My department is committed to improving the quality of rural life. For example the provision of accessible, affordable
childcare facilities for people in rural communities is something that is long
overdue. This is something that would not only make a major impact on women but
on the economic, social and well being of all families with young children. The
new Rural Development Programme will also provide the opportunity for significant
investment in rural areas to make them better places for everyone to live and
work. Women can make apositive and significant contribution by playing an active
part in identifying what is needed at a local level."

Ireland's commitment to development

The 2007 edition of the Commitment to Development has just been released.
'Each year the CDI ranks 21 rich countries on how much their policies help or
hurt developing countries. The starting point is that rich and poor countries
are connected in many ways--by aid, yes, but also by commerce, migration, the
environment, military affairs, and technological developments. So simple
comparisons of donors on how much aid they give as a share of gross domestic
product miss the big picture, which is why the CDI assesses policies in seven
major areas. The CDI web site offers a wealth of graphs, introductory material,
country performance reports, and technical detail.'
Ireland has been ranked 10th out of the 21 countries assessed, on the basis that it's;
'strongest contributions to the development of poor countries come through its
high quality foreign aid program and its lack of arms exports to undemocratic
governments. But as one of only two countries without a national political risk
insurance agency, Ireland ranks as the least supportive CDI country of
investment in poor countries. It is also one of the lowest in government support
for technology creation and dissemination.'

Web2ForDev, enhancing knowledge sharing

Well the first Web2ForDev international conference in Rome has come and gone and it has left in it's wake a wealth of information and ideas about improving access to, and sharing, information and how communities and individuals can become involved in contributing information and construction of knowledge. Its all here!

There are many examples provided as to how knowledge sharing can be improved in a rural community setting. I was not able to look at too many but this brief presentation caught my attention, Enhancing knowledge sharing in the rural community.
For another persepective on the meeting here's the views of the Director of CTA.

These tools and ideas could add much value to information sharing among community groups in Ireland. Sadly I am not aware of any such initiatives here. That's not to say there is nothing exciting going on. I'm sure there is, please let me know.

On that point, the next BlogTalk 2008 5th International Conference on Social Software) meeting will be taking place in Cork.
Click here for an interesting knowledge management perspective on Web2.0

2007 Development's Futures Conference

The 2007 'Development's Futures' conference will be taking place at NUI Galway on the 23rd and 24th November 2007.
'The conference aims to enhance the connections between development research and education and integrate dimensions of practice and activism. In doing so, the
conference encourages scholars, practitioners and activists to come together to
discuss the critical issues in development research and development education,
and to share their responses to the challenges of development.'
There many themes running through the conference that would be of interest to rural development practitioners anywhere.

The global appetite for biofuels

Given that biofuels are high up on the agenda of local rural development here in Ireland you might be interested that Comhlamh's First Wednesday Debates are back!

The debates kick off on Wednesday November 7th with: 'The Global Appetite for Bio Fuels...Is it Food or Fuel?'

Speakers and panel will include David Korowicz, Feasta (The Foundation for the Economics of Sustainability), Bernard Rice, Teagasc and the Irish Bioenergy Association.

So get along and find out if it's a healthy appetite or an appetite for destruction!

The series of debates on development related issues will be held on the first Wednesday of each month from 6.15 - 7.45pm at Bewley's Café Theatre (Grafton Street). Further information at 01-478 3490 or or This event is partly funded by Irish Aid.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Teaching and learning participation at Queen's

I came across this interesting ' learning and teaching' participation-related article on the Queen's University, Belfast - School of Planning, Architecture and Civil Engineering website. The article outlines a participatory planning project, adopting Future Search processes, with final year postgraduate students and staff in the School of Environmental Planning and other key stakeholders within the university.
'The learning objectives for the participatory project included the utilisation
of analytical, synthesising and presentational skills; enhanced understanding of large
group participatory planning methodologies; strengthened capacity to facilitate
discussion at small and large group scales; deeper understanding of the
relationship between planning theory and practice; an ability to build concensus
related to the identification of common ground and desired futures; and a
reinforced appreciation of the value of teamwork.'
The Queen's initiative has much in common with other global initiatives to learn and teach participation, many of which are captured on the Learning and Teaching for Transformation (LTT) website, which I have posted on before.

It would be interesting to know if this initiative is still ongoing in the School of Environmental Planning. It would be even better to know if there are any other similar initiatives within other disciplines at higher learning institutes in Ireland, north and south. It would be good to share these with the LTT initiative.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Some recent news items on European agriculture

Thanks to the author of Economic Development Resources and my friend Luigi for bringing a couple of articles on agricultural reform in the EU. Firstly an article on cheese and reform of the CAP in the Economist and this one on proposals to change the regulations related to set-aside.

For more information on agriculture and the European Union click here.

Monday, 8 October 2007

Help your community tell it's story

ILEIA, the Centre for Information on Low External Input Sustainable Agriculture is in the business of collecting and disseminating information on ecological agriculture. While the focus is on the global south there is much of relevance on their website for those interested in organic agriculture and other aspects of sustainable agriculture and food production. They also have good resources on documentation especially participatory approaches to documentation and information production, check out their downloadable manual Learning from Experience. This manual would be useful for community practitioners or groups requiring a structured framework to follow when documenting community based processes. All stakeholders involved have an opportunity to contribute to the documentation steps involved in this process.

Healthy solutions, farming solutions

Visit the Farming Solutions website and read some of the stories 'celebrating the huge diversity of ecologically sound and productive farming practices' being used by farmers and their local communities in Europe and elsewhere. Go one step further and share your experiences.

Everything you wanted to know about M&E (but couldn't be bothered searching for)

Those of you familiar with the participatory monitoring and evaluation tool 'most significant change' may be familiar with Rick Davies who was involved in its development as an M&E tool. It is a methodology that uses simple stories to capture project and programme impacts and is rather elegant and simple to use. Rick runs a couple of useful websites and blogs and these would be of great interest to those involved in M&E especially that which is participatory or wishes to involve target beneficiaries and partners in the process and as a learning/capacity-building exercise also. Firstly, there is MandE News which has current news including upcoming training events and links to useful M&E resources. Rick Davies on the Internet has links to many of Rick's publications on M&E. Finally, Rick on the Road is Rick's weblog.

Anyone involved in M&E should find a great deal to interest them here.

Young farmers in Europe innovating

'Many young farmers in the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe are turning away from the risks and insecurity involved in committing themselves to the capital intensive industrial farming model. They are now looking for low input, economical and multifunctional ways of managing their farms. In this interview with two young dairy farmers, the author shows how they are using these approaches to continue their family tradition as small farmers.'

Read more about these initiatives here.

Learning together for organic agriculture

'In the 1980s, Dutch farmers started cultivating new land in an area that formerly had been at the bottom of the sea. Although there was a growing interest from consumers in organically grown products, organic agricultural practices were still hardly developed in the Netherlands in those days. A group of farmers started a club with the aim to develop and share knowledge on organic production systems. Over the years this initiative developed into a formal organisation for organic farmers with more than 70 members. Once enough knowledge had been generated by this group, their mission has shifted towards strategic representation in influential agricultural organisations and lobbying activities.'

Hans Peter Reinders writes more here.

I wonder if there are any such 'learning and sharing' farmer clubs or organisations in Ireland.

Working towards a sustainable future

Some of you may be interested in the forthcoming special edition of the respected peer-reviewed journal "Organisations & People", containing new papers on sustainable development and organisational change. The papers explore issues arising from a number of questions including:

* What can change management specialists offer to sustainable development champions?
* What can organisational consultants learn from environmentalists?
* And how can we work together to get more change in the right direction in organisations?

For further information click here.

Tackling social exclusion of traveller communities

This recently published report from UNICEF Breaking the Cycle of Exclusion; Roma Children in South East Europe, may well have useful insights and lessons for policy makers and campaigners working on behalf of the traveller community in Ireland, who share similar exlusion, prejudice and discrimination. The report highlights key issues contributing to social exclusion of Roma children in eight South eastern European countries and identifies the most critical issues that, if addressed effectively, can break the intergenerational cycle of poverty and exclusion and create a new cycle of development, opportunity and inclusion.

'The authors argue that exclusion deprives children of their childhood and hinders them from fully developing their capacities to contribute in a substantial way to the economic and social development of their country. Exclusion is a de facto violation of the rights of children and it is with children that the intergenerational cycle of poverty and exclusion can be broken. The report calls for immediate action on social exclusion of children in middle income countries.

A range of recommendations are suggesting including:
  • educated Roma should be invited to participate in public life, on radio and television, so that people get to see Roma in other roles
  • the Child Ombudsman system should have a section or person supporting the rights of excluded children with special attention to Roma children
  • the welfare system should, in coordination with the other social sectors, play an important role in ensuring children and their parents are not excluded from the basic services
  • access to health care for Roma children is obstructed by costs, lack of registration and discrimination. All children should be registered from birth.'

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

What cost biofuels?

The Global Subsidies Initiative (GSI), a division of the International Institute for Sustainable Development, has launched its report on subsidies to biofuels in the European Union in the hope that it will help stimulate 'an informed debate on the costs and benefits of the European Union's biofuel policies.
'The report, "Biofuels: At What Cost? Government Support for Ethanol and
Biodiesel in the European Union
", questions the rationale behind the very large
sums of money being invested in support of this particular form of energy.'

Is organic milk hard to swallow?

There is a row fermenting in the UK over the organic status of milk. As more and more people in the UK chose organic milk there is growing concern about the welfare of cows involved in production. In non-organic milk production it is common practice for male calves not good enough for beef production are slaughtered or exported for intensive veal production. Now an investigation by Channel 4 reveals that the practice is common among organic dairy farms and the problem seems to lie with conflicting organic standards between certifying bodies in the UK, such as the Organic Food Foundation, and their counterparts at the Soil Association. The Soil Association's position on the issue is that the export of live male calves for intensive veal production is not 'organic' and I would have thought the majority of organic consumers in the UK would be of the same opinion.

The article concludes that a solution won't be reached until all standards organisations agree to a total ban on live calf exports. Surely exploring options for marketing humanely raised veal can help.

For more interesting news items and stories from the world of organic agriculture check out the relevant section of the Agricultural Biodiversity Blog

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Embracing diversity and pluralism

My friend Luigi brought this interesting article in the Limerick Post to my attention recently. It describes how the 'Igbos of Nigeria now living in Ireland celebrated their New Yam Festival in style, patriotism, pride and vigour in Limerick.' What a wonderful way for new communities and groups to Ireland to continue their traditions and share them with their new neighbours and friends. Those involved are to be congratulated. Unfortunately, I see very little of this sort of thing happening around my own district. These are lost opportunities for cross-cultural sharing and learning. With so many new nationalities and communities to the north there must be huge potential for initiatives of this sort, such as events in schools. Hopefully, someone can prove me wrong and point me in the direction where these kinds of things are happening. Maybe I am reading the wrong newspapers, they seem to be more interested in 'bad news' about Irelands new arrivals. Shame!

Having spent some time in the Pacific, I am occasionally partial to a yam or two (one if I am in Tonga!). Does anyone know the name of the shop in Limerick where the yams where purchased?

All the way with CDJ

The latest issue of Community Development Journal is dedicated to Community Development and the Arts.

CAP in hand

Check out the latest posting on the CAP and European agriculture from Mariann Fischer Boel's blog. If you have thoughts give her a comment.

The eyes have it

A novel approach to cow identification in Northern Ireland, click here.

Monday, 1 October 2007

Poor health

One of my enduring memories from childhood was the sight of a long line of traveller community caravans along the Cookstown road on the way into Omagh. Now all the travellers in the Omagh district are in fixed housing. It's all part of the learning experience of someone newly returned home. However, one of the most shocking things I have learned more recently was during the field visits at the Rural Community Network annual conference was the appalling level of health and health care among the traveller community here in Ireland, north and south. In a presentation by Connor Keyes, I learned some unpalatable facts such as:

  • Travellers have infant mortality rates 3 times higher than the general population.
  • Travellers have stillbirth rates double that of the general population.
  • Traveller men live on average 10 years less than settled men.
  • Traveller women live on average 12 years less than settled women.
  • Travellers of all ages have very high mortality rates compared to the Irish population.
It reminded me of the 'Third World' health conditions that Aborigine communities endure in 'economically advanced' Australia. University College Dublin have just commenced an All-Ireland Traveller Health Study 2007-2010 which will provide up-to-date information and hopefully indications that the situation is improving. It will be interesting to see if there are significant differences between north and south in terms of health conditions. Lay health workers have been operating in the south for some time now but a similar strategy is not yet in operation for the traveller community in Northern Ireland. It is hard to understand why not given the known barriers and constraints facing health care among the traveller community. Surely a situation that will change soon I hope.

Better food and farming

Sustain: the alliance for better food and farming advocates food and agriculture policies and practices that enhance the health and welfare of people and animals, improve the working and living environment, promote equity and enrich society and culture.

Sustain was launched at the UNED-UK hosted Healthy Planet Forum on 17 June 1999. It was formed by merging The National Food Alliance and the Sustainable Agriculture Food and Environment (SAFE) Alliance, both of which had been established for over 10 years.

Livestock diseases

There have been a couple of interesting livestock disease postings on the CABI Blog, Hand Picked and Carefully Sorted recently. Check out these two, Bluetongue virus: knocking at the door and BSE: Twenty years old.

Interactive web-based platform in support of agriculture and rural development

'The UN Food and Agriculture Organization today announced the launch of a unique interactive web-based platform focusing on the role that Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) can have in supporting agriculture and rural development.The online platform,, will enable users to exchange opinions, experiences, good practices and resources related to e-agriculture, and to ensure that the knowledge created is effectively shared and used worldwide.'

Taking rural seriously

Despite arriving late (car trouble) I had a really excellent day in Omagh at the annual Rural Community Network conference which was held on the theme So What About Rural - Taking Rural Seriously. The conference explored a range of issues through site visits to community development organizations in the vicinity and workshops what is needed to be put in place to build the case for rural in terms of:
• A voice for rural communities
• Supporting rural community development practice
• Developing civic leadership in rural communities
• Contributing to a Shared Future for rural communities
• Ensuring sustainable rural communities
• A Bill of Rights for rural
Various workshop groups were then tasked with making a case for each of the above before a Dragon's Den Panel of 'experts' and 'sceptics'.
Thanks to the staff and facilitators from RCN for an excellent and informative day

Participatory rural planning

The Institute of Spatial and Environmental Planning (ISEP) at Queen's University and the Rural Community Network (RCN) have got together to produce a useful toolkit for participatory rural planning. The kit consists of three data resource booklets (covering localities in East Down, West Tyrone and the western shores of Lough Neagh), two technical papers and a DVD/CD on the community preferences modelling process and three powerpoint presentations on settlement morphology, questionnaire data and the workshop processes. Copies of the toolkit are available from the Rural Community Network.

There are also an interesting short articles available online. One titled Participatory planning in Northern Ireland; the learning community approach is available from PLA Notes No. 38.

The world is ageing fast - have we noticed?

Today is International Day for Older People, I did a posting on this earlier.
'In all countries, and in developing countries in particular, measures to help
older people remain healthy and active are a necessity, not a luxury.'
Get informed and find out what you can do to facilitate this process, click here

From WID to GAD, trends in gender mainstreaming

If all you need is a simple and concise, yet extremely useful, guide to the trends in gender and women's issues then the UK's Department of International Development (DFID) Gender Manual is probably what you are after. Alternatively, if you are interested in a more systematic analysis of the trend in gender and women's issues in International Development over the past few decades you may be interest to read, From WID to GAD: Conceptual Shifts in the Women and Development Discourse. There is much here to benefit anyone interested in gender mainstreaming in rural development.

Welcome to the Gender Training wiki.

If you are looking for information on gender training go no further than the UN's Gender Training wiki. It has excellent resources on training organizations, training events, training manuals, funding, grants and scholarships.

WomenWatch, the gateway

'WomenWatch is the central gateway to information and resources on the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women throughout the United Nations system, including the United Nations Secretariat, regional commissions, funds, programmes, specialized agencies and academic and research institutions. It is a joint United Nations project created in March 1997 to provide Internet space for global gender equality issues and to support implementation of the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action. Since 1997 the intergovernmental mandate has expanded, for example through the outcome document of the Twenty-third special session of the General Assembly in June 2000 and Security Council resolution 1325 of October 2000. The website now also provides information on the outcomes of, as well as efforts to incorporate gender perspectives into follow-up to global conferences.'

There is much here that would be of value to local gender practitioners and advocates. Check it out.